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Wednesday, December 15, 2010

A tribute to my mother

Today my mother would have turned 79 had she not died a little over 8 years ago from cancer. In 2001, I landed in Israel on the morning of her birthday knowing that this was going to be our final days together. My mother knew her days were numbered. She was not afraid to die. She kept saying "whatever happens, happens." Her total disregard for death made it so much easier for me. Like death was not a big deal. There was no emotional outbursts or tears or sudden insights. Just a matter of fact approach to the situation. Life is running out, take it one moment at a time.

I think my mother is glad she did not live to be 79. She hated the thought of getting old. Age was her enemy. She never told her real age and always complained about getting old, not because she felt tired or pain or useless or bored, but because she felt compromised by the undignifying numbers.

One morning she took off her wedding ring and gave it to my sister. I guess my sister got the ring because she wears jewelry better than I, and also because she is the first born. When I saw my mother giving her the ring, I realized it was my time to ask for the masterpiece table cloth she crochet during the First Gulf War while she was waiting in the gas-proof room for the scud missiles to explode above the skies of Haifa. Years ago I told her that I hoped she would leave me that piece in her will and she rolled her eyes and gave me one of her "I give up" half smiles. She knew I could be very persistent once I put my mind into something.

While the drama surrounding the certainty of her death was rather subdued, a very different storm was brewing around her imminent departure from this world. You see, my mother wanted to leave her kibbutz apartment to her three children who were born and raised on the kibbutz. She knew that soon, each member of the kibbutz would become the legal owner of his/her apartment through the process of privatization, but she had no time to wait for this process to be finalized. She knew that she was dying. So from her deathbed at the hospital she asked the members of the kibbutz to let her children keep her apartment after her death until privatization was finalized. But the leadership had other plans for this small apartment and refused to bring my mother's very unusual request to the assembly.

I remember the shock and grief I felt when I heard that my mother's request was denied. Not only was I losing my mother, I was about to lose the only place I ever felt connected to, my parents' home, my home. No pleading could have changed the minds and hearts of those who were in charge, I realized. There was no one to talk to, no one to beg. It was again The Kibbutz, the invisible entity and its invisible regulations that we were facing.

The morning after the final verdict was given to us by the kibbutz secretary, I went to the hospital to see my mother as I did every day. It was pretty early and I did not expect her to be awake. But she was waiting for me. She had something important to say.

"I am going to leave the kibbutz," she said.

I was not sure I heard her right. How could this woman who always said, "the kibbutz decided," "they said...," "this is how it is," could say such a thing? I told her I needed to call my brother.

"She wants to leave the kibbutz," I said to him.

A couple of days later she signed a legally binding separation statement from the kibbutz and from her deathbed she taped a short speech, berating her old comrades' lack of foresight and explaining why she decided to leave the kibbutz.

I found out later that people on the kibbutz thought my brother and I talked her into doing it. They thought we intimidated her to do something against her will. They could not believe that my mother could have done such a thing on her own. I could not believe it, either.

I still have the videotape she had made a month before she died. I haven't seen it yet. I am too scared to look at it. The day she made that video, I did not go to the hospital. I did not want to see her sign any papers or making that video. She did not look too good in her final days. The pain and the drugs took it all out of her. Except for her humor and her resolve. She could barely sit up when she had to read and sign her declaration, my brother told me later. But she was determined to complete her final mission. Standing up for her own principles.

Maybe the time has come for me to watch that video.

I think I'll sleep on it tonight.
Related material:
If you'd like to learn more about my mother check out my e-book Daughter of the Kibbutz

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